Ashley: It’s like, Lena Dunham came up with a character who has to represent someone annoying — like, the worst of a generation. That you’ve had a lot more exposure to. This article originally appeared in Dinner Party, an evening newsletter about culture and current events. Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Ray-Harris

Kathryn VanArendonk is a critic for Vulture. Of course it isn’t fair, but it doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job. What’s her comedy like, and who’s it for?Ashley: My full disclosure: I’m comedy friends with Hannah and Meg Stalter. Obviously, yeah, she has parents that are helpful. I am wearing a Deborah Vance shirt right now. I hate her. Like, that is just not something that happens. You’re probably pretty good because you have a nepotistic relationship with this thing you grew up around. Do you buy into it? One thing I will say that isn’t so accurate and something that bothers me about Hacks is that when you look at the reality of comedy and the premise of this white girl getting punished and sent to Vegas because she tweeted something bad. That plus the ability to have access to like, What kinda moves do I need to make? It’s a Herculean task that any person has to do. Are they gonna become the next Hannah Gadsby, you know? There are so many comics who inspire me who I’ve seen being boxed into that. Photo: New York Magazine

Let’s start off here: Is Hannah just a product of SNL nepotism or … what?!Kathryn: Ashley …

Ashley: I think all comedians, if you have connections, if you have someone who can help you, they’re gonna use that background. Vox Media, LLC Terms and Privacy Notice
By submitting your email, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Notice and to receive email correspondence from us. Has there been a discrepancy in response between comedians and TV people?Kathryn: Within our own staff at Vulture, it’s been really fascinating to watch. Do you want try to do all of it at the same time? Do you pick a role — I’m trying to think of the opposite of this kind of role would be. Email

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Terms of Service apply. A serial killer? So she’s not so bad. But also it’s subject to the same kinds of questions any TV comedy has to deal with in its second season. That’s been my big question. Kathryn: I was just about to say that! But as a comic I was so happy they didn’t make it about Joan Rivers. Ashley: Yeah, like an action movie. Kathryn: The thing I’m trepidatious about is this implication that we appreciate Deborah Vance more and we think she’s not gonna be as hacky because she’s gonna be truthful about all these dark things. Kathryn: If we eliminated nepotism in Hollywood, we wouldn’t have Hollywood. Our guests today:

Ashley Ray-Harris is a comedian and television writer. But she’s hilarious and an amazingly talented person and you need both to have your career blow up so quickly. When it works is when she stays able to find that combination of being a person and the idea that people look at her and see a lot of things about America. You have to be yourself and also everyone — and you have to do it next to Jean Smart. She nails that. Is that not fair? Kathryn: Also she wouldn’t have gotten canceled for that tweet. Ashley: Like literally you just can use it as shorthand for a stand-up comic who’s doing longform storytelling. I think it was Ben Stiller who, a long time ago, was like, “How can you say my parents helped me get anywhere?” And it’s like, “C’mon Ben, obviously.” But, at the same time, comedy and stand-up is still an industry where the people at the top expect you to put your time in. It’s my bias coming in as a female stand-up comic, but I have to love Hacks because it’s the first thing I’ve ever watched where it’s like, Yes, this is what it feels like. But also, you kinda have to root for them even though you’re supposed to hate them. It just means you had a lot more opportunities to get good at it. Ashley: Any comic who gets that big role is worried it’ll typecast them. Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Vanity Fair

Ashley, I did not know this lady was 26 years old before this. I do wonder about our fascination, as an audience, with her as a young person. And I think part of the show is that they both have to let go of some of these morals. When you look at the show and the people involved in the show, they’re not new. Particularly for some of our staffers, there was some frustration, where it was like, “Okay, if you’re gonna make a Joan Rivers show, just make the Joan Rivers show.” In the worst case, it’s a gatekeeping impulse, and we need to be able to be more open about who the real people are. But I think particularly for creative fields, it’s not like, This is my terrible nephew, let’s stick him in the mail room. I’m happy it wasn’t about a real comic. But because she doesn’t exist, we really don’t know where these two might go. It’s interesting because now people are just being introduced to her stand-up through this character on Hacks, which isn’t really her, and they’re kinda combining the two in their heads. It doesn’t matter who your parents are if you haven’t put in the time in the clubs or gone on tours. Ashley: You know you don’t get to — well, I was about to say you don’t get to perform at the Hollywood Improv unless you’re good, and that is a lie, so. Kathryn: People are so much more impacted by the characters rather than the people who play them, though. And if you really want to be respected, you kinda have to go through the steps. I don’t think they wanted to risk a show like Hacks on someone they didn’t think was talented enough to carry the show. So this role collapses the identities Hannah already sorta inhabits. But it’s the audience — like there are people who want Hannah to be the character on Hacks, right? They’re the ones who deal with the pressure. There’s been a split reaction. You just wouldn’t!Ashley: Especially to a connected white female comic? Never. I do wanna get into the stand-up, because I don’t think many people have seen her perform. A lot of times when I’m watching Hacks, I think that what she’s going through, it would actually apply to a Black female comic or a minority comic. At the Vanity Fair post-Oscars party. Tags: These are veterans of TV. Kathryn: Heroes all. They had to find someone who could stand next to Jean Smart and hold it down. Ashley: For comedians, there are the comics who watch with resentment because we audition for so many roles in the show. But we stay strong and we keep watching. Ashley: She seems a little older. It just wouldn’t happen! It’s not like we haven’t seen it before! That’s what TV is for, ya know; it’s accessible to millions of people in a way that going to live stand up can’t be. Give us Deborah Vance, give us this new character where we see the tropes of so many female comics who became a note in the history books and are only known in the retirement set. I think they’re both really hilarious. Photo: Left: HBO, Right: Apatow Productions/Kobal/Shutterstock

Hannah Einbender is the 26-year-old co-star of Hacks, which returns for a second season today. How do you, having created and resolved tension between two people, go about creating that tension again? I’m very glad that she has the ability to make that choice. Sign up here to get it every weeknight. Ashley: It’s like the Hannah Horvath dilemma, ya know. It’s about picking the kind of relationship you want with it in the future. Or like something very objectified and empty. Ashley: Thank you, we’re very brave. Kathryn: Whatever your opinion on Nanette was, no one can say we’re not gonna continue to argue about it. She is also the daughter of Laraine Newman, the groundbreaking SNL comedian who is one of the greatest of all time. For Hannah, I do think her stand-up is a version of the character she plays on Hacks. She’s so young, and she kinda plays up for me. And audiences are just like, No, she’s annoying. [Editor’s note: She was.] I loved that they created this fictional woman. Where I think white women in comedy are able to defy those boundaries and are able to do weird things. If nothing else, it’s so useful. Hannah doesn’t have a ton of recorded specials, yeah, but people in stand-up are so familiar with her that the people booking her for their shows know what they’re getting. And I think there’s a simplicity for women to this implication that you’re not just gonna be that character anymore: You’re gonna tell a real sad thing, and now you’re gonna be important. Solid stuff. Sign up for Dinner Party
A lively evening newsletter about everything that just happened, sent every weeknight. Do you stop doing it for a while? There were moments when I could feel this tension in the scripts, when it was like that character was being asked to stand in for a lot of things without details. It’s like, yeah, they’re making fun of millennials with this character. So it is a frustrating trap that gets built that must be infuriating but it’s like this is what TV is best at. Particularly when somebody has to actually stand on a stage and make people laugh — there’s an immediacy to the response to whether or not they’re succeeding. She’s more funny and less like a stereotypical annoying millennial like on the show, but it’s very much like a queer, bisexual, weird voice of someone I think is outside the standard of what you’d expect of this little white girl. And I do hope that they find a way out of the frustrating collapse of art and “authenticity.” My giant air quotes better make it into the transcript. Ashley: Part of me is like there’s something to be celebrated in the way Deborah’s a hack. But it is a question of like: Does she wanna swerve or lean in? Are we concerned about this portrayal for her being so close to what she actually does in life? So the question for Hannah or for anybody is: Do you want that? And whether she’s going to have the ability to move through the industry and whether we’re going to be fair about the role she’s playing? She has a character that she’s been cast to play in part because people feel like you need to be both an individual and representative of an entire generation of people. I think both avenues are gonna be available to her. I can see what she represents, but I’m also annoyed with her. The next Marvel star!Kathyrn: Or like a booth babe, right? Really any direction. I started doing comedy in Chicago, and Meg was one of the first comedians I’d do shows with. Kathryn, how do you feel about her standing next to Jean Smart?Kathryn: It’s challenging.